Presentation of the Henri Pezerat Memorial Award by Dr Annie Thebaud-Mony
For over 35 years, the French toxicologist Henri Pezerat worked to raise awareness of the horrific legacy asbestos had left in his country. Often his attempts were frustrated by the massive propaganda campaign orchestrated by the industry. Using all the dirty tricks with which we have become familiar, asbestos stakeholders ridiculed his research; they attempted to neutralize Henri's denunciation of the toxic fiber by categorizing him as a leftist troublemaker. Well, he was a troublemaker and he was a leftist but he was also right about asbestos.
As a scientist, Henri realized that he had a duty to respond to social needs and issues of public health. He was deeply concerned about the pervasive asbestos contamination of the French infrastructure, the social invisibility of asbestos victims and the asbestos information vacuum which persisted in France. The French government's selective asbestos blindness combined with the inclination of medical and scientific professionals to hide behind the industry's "controlled use" fallacy, marginalized and isolated asbestos victims.
Henri's involvement was pivotal in the efforts to build the international ban asbestos movement and was a key participant at pivotal events in Milan (1993) and Sao Paulo (1994). His ability and willingness to review "supposedly" independent academic papers written under the influence of the industry were invaluable. He was generous with his time and always responded to requests from individuals or the relatives of individuals who had been injured by asbestos exposures.
Henri Pezerat was an open-hearted and generous man with keen intellectual capabilities. A toxicologist who accepted his civic responsibility, he was uncompromising in his condemnation of those scientists who put their services on offer to the highest bidder. His death in February 2009, has left a big gap at the heart of the global ban asbestos community.
Today we commemorate Henri's work, by presenting the Henri Pezerat Memorial Award 2009 to another scientist. This individual was the only representative from Korea to attend the Global Asbestos Congress in Osasco in 2000. In Osasco and again in Tokyo, this medical professional educated the global community about the use of asbestos in his country, the everyday hazardous exposures experienced by workers and members of the public and the ubiquity of environmental contamination. Not only did he present hard data but he proposed solutions. He embarked upon a course of action to put these solutions into practice and by so doing kick-started the national debate on asbestos which has now reached fever-pitch in Korea.
With his colleagues, Dr. Domyung Paek founded the Korean National Network (BANKO). Nowadays, research by BANKO is reported widely throughout the national media: whether it is the incidence of disease in asbestos hotspots, environmental pollution by tremolite or the sale of asbestos-contaminated baby powder, BANKO and its members are exposing the true reality of the national asbestos scandal.
Like our beloved friend Henri Pezerat, our esteemed colleague Dr. Paek does not let his training and education get in the way of his humanity. Like Henri, Domyung responds to the needs of individuals and communities polluted by asbestos and like Henri he has chosen a difficult road to navigate - life is never easy for the Scientist-Activist.
It is my great pleasure to present the Henri Pezerat Memorial Award 2009 to Dr. Domyung Paek, in honour of his humanity, leadership and commitment.